November 28, 2016

Astaire / Marx Bros. at Stanford Theater through year-end

THE career of the Astaires, as it has been told to us, is worth making some record of. Particularly since, April rumor has it, this year may be their last together. They are of course really brother and sister. They were born in Omaha. Adele is thirty and Fred is twenty-nine and they have been dancing together since she was six and he was five, professionally since they were nine and eight respectively. Their father’s name was Fred Austerlitz and he was a Viennese and a brewer. Being from Vienna he didn’t scoff when an excited lady who wrote pieces for a paper in Omaha announced in her columns that the two children—whom she had seen perform at an ice cream social or something— were clever and would surely go on the stage. Mr. Austerlitz looked his children over himself the next time they did their little dance together and decided the lady was right. 


The reason this season may be their last together, after twenty-two years in which they have never appeared separately, is because Adele expects to be married and will live in England and raise Scotch terriers. Fred also yearns to get away from the amber spot and out in the open. His ambition is to produce, but he also wants to own a great stable of horses some day. Knowing this, the management of “Funny Face,” in which the pair are now appearing, presented Mr. Astaire (and probably sighed as they did so) with a Copenhagen China horse and jockey the night the show opened. He keeps it on his dressing-room table. 

Their first appearance in this city was in 1907. They did a clog dance in a vaudeville house until the Gerry Society objected. In those years they were forced to play in Shamokin and Passaic and places like that in order not to be molested by societies who knew that dancing was terrible for children. 

Their first real chance in New York, after they got old enough to be let alone, came at the old Fifth Avenue Theatre and their hearts were high with hope. On the same bill was Douglas Fairbanks. He got over very well but after the first show the Astaires sadly noted that their names had been scratched from the call-board, which meant the management had given them, as Mr. James Gleason would say, the works. You couldn’t daunt the children, however, and they made their first big success not long afterwards in the revue “Over the Top.” Since then they have snapped their fingers at call-boards. 

One of their earliest friendships was with George Gershwin, then a piano player for Remick. He used to say he hoped some day to write a score which the brother and sister could dance to. That happened first in the production of “Lady Be Good.” Then came “Funny Face.” We were interested to learn that dancing shoes rarely last the Astaires morethan three weeks, which, to coin a statistic, means that each of them has used about four hundred pairs since they began to dance together. Fred is superstitious and on opening nights always brings to his dressing-room and wears a funny looking red and green bathrobe he bought in Bridgeport thirteen years ago. It hasn’t always brought him luck though. For instance, he was selected, not long ago, by a Columbia professor and a cigarette manufacturing company, to be blindfolded and to pick out, as the best of four cigarettes offered him, the kind manufactured by the company in question. He picked the wrong one. 

- James Thurber, 1928


November 24, 2016

Infinite repercussions


As a Canadian writer, do you feel more affinity with Scottish, Celtic, or American writers than with the English?


Well, no. Rather disappointingly, no. I’m very interested in the writing that goes on in Scotland and indeed in all the Celtic countries and of course in Ireland. I do not respond quite so immediately and warmly to writers in the United States, because their concerns are different from mine and their approach to them is different from mine. They seem to be infinitely concerned with very subtle details of feeling and life. I find this exemplified, for instance, in many stories in The New Yorker where whether the family will have pumpkin pie or something else on Thanksgiving Day is a decision with infinite psychological and sexual repercussions. I take this quite seriously. I admire their subtlety—but I get so sick of it. I wish they would deal with larger themes.


I hope you don’t think New Yorker writers are representative of American culture across the board.


Perhaps not. I just see their stories every week because I’ve been taking the magazine forever and I haven’t the wits to stop.


Almost as if keeping sensitive data on public networks were a bad idea

A recent report from the Global Risk Institute predicted that there is a one in seven chance vital cryptography tools will be rendered useless by 2026, rising to a 50% chance by 2031. In the meantime, hackers and spies can hoover up data encrypted using current approaches and simply wait until quantum computers powerful enough to crack the code have been developed.


Let's start here

[A] federal district court struck down Wisconsin’s state legislative districts, saying they were unconstitutionally gerrymandered to favor Republicans.


November 23, 2016

More ways of looking at Wang Wei, via Weinberger

Deer Park 

The mountain is empty, no man can be seen.
but the echo of human sounds is heard.
Returning sunlight, entering the deep forest, s
hines again on green moss, above.

— ARTHUR SZE, 2001 (Sze, The Silk Dragon

 The Chinese-American poet Arthur Sze follows Snyder (# 19) in translating both meanings of xiang (Snyder: human sounds and echoes, Sze: the echo of human sounds). And, like Snyder, he places the moss above.

In an interesting essay, “The Wang River Sequence, A Prospectus” (included in Civil Disobediences, edited by Anne Waldman & Lisa Birman), Sze connects this poem to a later one in the sequence, “Bamboo Grove,” which he translates as:
I sit alone in the secluded bamboo grove
and play the zither and whistle along.
In the deep forest no one knows,
the bright moon comes to shine on me.

The moonlight coming into the forest to shine on the poet is the twin of the late sunlight shining again on the moss. “In a sense,” Sze writes, “the green moss may be the poet’s mind.”


Radio City

November 20, 2016

Matisse in New York, 1930

He says the turning point in his career was the day he put his foot through a canvas instead of selling it for the four hundred francs he knew he could get, to feed the three children he knew he had. After that experience he took more pains with his work and never sent out a canvas that did not entirely please him. Lay people call him “sloppy,” but one picture of his shown recently in the Valentine Gallery was the result of some twelve hundred preliminary sketches. A picture of his now would cost you about sixteen thousand dollars [$230,000 in 2016] if you could buy it, which you can’t, because he likes to have his pictures around. He is now the acknowledged leader of the French moderns, credited by artists generally as having the best color eye that has glanced at life these many, many years. 

Matisse is on his way to the South Seas. He may paint a bit in California and elsewhere on the way. When put on the train for Chicago his friends explained to the porter that he could speak no English. Matisse said he would make out all right, that whenever he got into language difficulties anywhere he would take out his sketch pad and begin drawing. In a very few minutes some woman was certain to come up and speak to him in French.

- Murdock Pemberton and E.B. White


Well, there's your problem

In the wake of the US election, critics have blamed Facebook for bringing about—at least in part—Trump's surprise win. A BuzzFeed report showed that Facebook users interacted far more with "fake news" stories about both candidates than they did with mainstream news outlets before the election. This wouldn't seem like such a big deal if it weren't for a Pew Research Center survey showing that 44% of Americans rely on Facebook to get all their news.


The education of Larry Summers

The fight for academic freedom and for ideological diversity on college campuses should and will go on.  But given what opposition to “political correctness” has licensed, it time to retire the term.


8 lines

November 19, 2016

Dutch Geometry

A few more excerpts from Brilliant Orange, on the concept of space:

‘We discussed space all the time,’ says Barry Hulshoff. ‘Cruyff always talked about where people should run, where they should stand, when they should not be moving. It was all about making space and coming into space. It is a kind of architecture on the field. It is about movement but still it is about space, about organising space.

The football pitch is the same size and shape everywhere in the world, yet no one else thought about football this way. So why did the Dutch? The answer may be that the Dutch think innovatively, creatively and abstractly about space in their football because for centuries they have had to think innovatively about space in every other area of their lives. Because of their strange landscape, the Dutch are a nation of spatial neurotics. On the one hand they don’t have nearly enough of the stuff. Holland is one of the most crowded and most intensively planned landscapes on Earth. Space is an inordinately precious commodity, and for centuries the use of every square centimetre of every Dutch city, field and polder has been carefully considered and argued over. The land is controlled because as a matter of national survival it must be.

The land the Dutch made for themselves is extremely odd. ‘We live in a complete knot of artificialness,’ says influential landscape architect Dirk Sijmons. ‘What is nature and what is can’t say. The landscape is an abstraction in the sense that it is only points, lines and surfaces, like a painting by Mondrian. We live in a kind of inhabited mega-structure below sea level. It is a form of degenerated nature, but at the same time it is a beautiful landscape.’

‘How can a small country like Holland, one of the most crowded nations on Earth, offer space?’ he asks. ‘The answer lies in the Dutch ability to create new space — not only literally, in the form of new land reclaimed from the sea, but in the form of new political structures, new social compacts and new relationships between society, technology and nature. This ability to make space gives rise to a host of surprising hybrids: what seems natural — the land, for instance — is in fact artificial, and often what is man-made has become intertwined with nature.

. . . 

The Dutch make their geometric patterns. In a Vermeer, the pearl twinkles. You can say, in fact, that the twinkling of the pearl is the whole point of Vermeer. 

The whole painting is leading to this moment, the way the whole of football leads to the overhead goal of Van Basten...

November 18, 2016

wtf America...

President Barack Obama's job approval rating rose to 57% last week, his highest weekly average since late December 2012. Prior to 2012, Obama's weekly approval rating had not reached 57% since July 2009.


Total something

In retrospect, the first hint that something might go badly wrong with the Dutch at the 2010 World Cup came in a TV commercial made solely for Dutch consumption. The source was impeccable: the Nike company. Nike has a close relationship with many Holland players and with the KNVB (Dutch football association) and had picked up something everyone else had missed: Van Marwijk’s De Oranje was going to be different to all previous incarnations. Developed nine months earlier and aired just before the World Cup, the commercial featured the Netherlands’ captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst, midfielders Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart and others training with the intensity of soldiers preparing for war. Drums beat in a military manner. Grim-visaged stars sweat and suffer. And a series of captions spell out a radically new philosophy in orange letters: ‘Tears of joy are made of sweat’ ... ‘Destroy egos, starting with your own’ ... ‘Break their hearts, steal their fans.’  

The old individualism, fun and artistry were out. The new values were discipline, loyalty and strength. The players embrace as comrades and march together down a corridor like reservoir dogs. Meanwhile, the orange masses exult. Short of seeing a three-engined plane descend from the clouds bearing a great leader, the message could hardly be more alarming. Cruyffian history was explicitly snubbed: ‘Football isn’t Total without victory’ sneered the ad, and ‘A beautiful defeat is still a defeat.'

. . . 

After the Final [spoiler: they lost] BBC pundit Alan Hansen accused the Dutch of turning from Total Football to ‘Total Thuggery’. The British press, so often Holland’s biggest admirers in the past, were horrified by ‘the Dirty Dutch’ and ‘the Clogs of War’. The Mirror argued that a Netherlands victory would have represented a triumph of bad over good and might even have destroyed the World Cup. The Sun put De Jong’s kung fu assault on Xabi Alonso on its front page and damned the Dutch as a ‘disgrace to football’
. . .

For the first time in my life, I experience the color orange as oppressive. I can’t wait to get to the airport. At the Leidseplein I hear a roar, look up and see the team’s helicopters overhead, followed by planes towing banners. They read: ‘You fought like lions’ and ‘You are our heroes’.


November 16, 2016

You know, for kids

Inspired by the new blockbuster film from Legendary, Warcraft, comes an iconic weapon from the world of Warcraft. Legendary weapon of Orgrim Doomhammer that brings doom to all who oppose it. This highly detailed toy of the Doomhammer will be a must have for fans of the film and video game alike! Get yours and prepare for battle today! For ages 6 and up. 


November 15, 2016

Eliot Weinberger meets his nemesis

In 1989, two years after the US publication of Nineteen Ways by a small literary publisher, I received a book from Mexico: Para leer Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei [How to Read Nineteen Ways . . .], written by none other than the Furious Professor, and privately published at his own expense. The Professor’s book, much longer than my own, is almost a line-by-line analysis of my text, filled with violent denunciations and character assassinations. Its most entertaining moment occurs when he must concede that he actually agrees with me on some small point: “Almost nobody is perpetually totally mistaken, and here, at last, Mr. Weinberger hits the nail on the head”...

Some years later, after a reading I gave in Mexico City, a small middle-aged man with the expression of a mouse in a barn fire came scurrying over to me. “Hello, I’m the Furious Professor,” he said, referring to himself by my epithet rather than his own name, “and I wanted to give you this.” He handed me a manilla envelope. “What’s this? Another attack on me?” “What else? . . . But I wanted to thank you. I was asked to deliver this paper at a conference in Hawaii. I had a wonderful time, and all thanks to you!” Before I could reply, he had disappeared into the crowd. 

Naturally I couldn’t wait to read his latest. It turned out to be a critical study, written in English, of some modern Chinese translations of a classical Chinese poem. Although this is a subject I have never written about — in fact, know nothing about — the Professor periodically interrupted his discussion for my supposed response: “This incorporates a number of features dear to Weinberger’s heart” or “It is not difficult to imagine the scandalized cries of alarm on the part of Weinberger and his colleagues.” (An enemy force, I had now become a group.)

Surely the Furious Professor is the purest form of literary critic: a man who devotes his life to demolishing the work of a writer no one else knows. Clearly he is the only reader who truly needs me. But, lounging on the beaches of Hawaii, does he ever have a moment of panic: the thought that I, in the freezing New York winter, might, just to spite him, stop typing?


I knew it!

Robertson Davies was a pompous asshole. And if anyone was a certifiable snob, it was Davies. He tried to impress us with the port, the cigars, the rituals. 


But he made me laugh. He was witty. It’s coming back to me– that night at Massey he egged us on, bless him! After he told me I’d end up in a Mexican jail, he said to us, “What you should do now is go out and break a few windows!” Robertson Davies was conventional– but he was on our side.

- Scott Symons in Robertson Davies: A Portrait in Mosaic


Can't believe they pulled it off...but they did

November 13, 2016

The Atlantic has the story

Over the next 40 years, this Democratic generation fundamentally altered American politics. They restructured “campaign finance, party nominations, government transparency, and congressional organization.” They took on domestic violence, homophobia, discrimination against the disabled, and sexual harassment. They jettisoned many racially and culturally authoritarian traditions. They produced Bill Clinton’s presidency directly, and in many ways, they shaped President Barack Obama’s.

The result today is a paradox. At the same time that the nation has achieved perhaps the most tolerant culture in U.S. history, the destruction of the anti-monopoly and anti-bank tradition in the Democratic Party has also cleared the way for the greatest concentration of economic power in a century. 


November 12, 2016

Talking to us not like we're stupid

Let history record that Obama goes out the door with:
  • Full, or nearly full employment
  • The national debt at manageable levels
  • Core inflation close to target

His other agendas, as documented here, were thwarted by a heroic Republican Congress, so, unlike Caesar, his good might live after him, perhaps even some of Obamacare.

For those who think the U.S. has gone mad (and maybe it has), I'd recommend this interesting article, which reports out some exit polling.  Key points:
  • In 2012, Obama won both voters who had graduated from college and those who hadn't; he took 50 percent among the former group and 51 percent among the latter. This time around, there was a far bigger divide. Clinton won voters with a college degree 52 percent to 43 percent. Trump won voters without a college degree by eight points.
  • Trump's victory should be in no way interpreted as a vote of confidence in him or his capacity to do the job. Less than 4 in 10 voters (38 percent) had a favorable opinion of him. Only 1 in 3 said he was "honest and trustworthy." Thirty-eight percent said he was "qualified" to be president. Thirty-five percent said he has the "temperament to serve effectively as president."  How can a candidate win with numbers like these? Because the desire for change was so great that it overrode all of the doubts - or at least many of the doubts - people had about Trump.
As to how such an unlikable person got so many votes (apart from Clinton Drama Fatigue) this interesting article praises Trump's ability to talk like a 6th grader:
More than 40 percent of Americans have only basic literary skills, according to a 2003 assessment...  A presidential candidate wants to be understood by all voters, from immigrants whose first language isn’t English to those with advanced degrees in linguistics. Trump rarely uses speechwriters, yet he’s grasped one of their principles: It is more important to be understood than to use $10 words. The simple way Trump speaks does not make his supporters think he is speaking down to them. The opposite, in fact, appears to be true. “He’s . . . talking to us not like we’re stupid,” one supporter said in a focus group conducted in December.
and also:
Most of the words in a speech don’t register in the brains of listeners, who are more likely to remember the general tone of a speech and how it made them feel. 
For all the talk of a crisis in the Republican Party, the Democrats, I think have bigger problems.  The two proffered candidates this time around were Davos Democrat Clinton, and Sanders, whose language was the most complex of any candidate.  This has happened to the Democrats again and again:  Kerry, Gore, and Dukakis, among others, were competent but largely insulated from the world of uneducated Americans.  Since only about a third of American adults have even a Bachelors degree, that's a problem.

To win back some power (hopefully in two years' time), the Dems will need to market effectively to ordinary people, not just their billionaire pals.

This whole thing has had a Reaganesque feel to it.  I remember sitting at Wesleyan one night in 1980, watching an expected close election turn into a blowout, and it was a similar type of rebuke.  The "Reagan Democrats" turned on their party, and it was morning in America, and it worked out great except for the millions of homeless people his policies created.  Thus, Garrison Keillor, who is old enough to remember, walks away from the table.
Alas for the Trump voters, the disasters he will bring on this country will fall more heavily on them than anyone else. The uneducated white males who elected him are the vulnerable ones and they will not like what happens next.
As much as I sympathize with him emotionally - it was not pleasant, sitting in Hong Kong, pondering my flight home to Trumpamerica - going away isn't really an option.  The Democrats need to get back to what has worked for them:  being the party of working people, the party that looks out for the less well-educated and less well-off.  And they need to put forth candidates who have been in a grocery store in the past decade, who have credibility in flyover land, have maybe even been to visit there once in a while.  Obama had all that, the Clintons, not.

I don't like what happened, but here is all I needed to know about Hillary Clinton.  The first big news after the election is that she blames Comey.  I understand, his behavior was reprehensible.  But how do we know this?  Because she said so...apparently...reportedly...on a call to donors that was closed to the press.

How did Americans ever get the idea she was disconnected?

The Democrats need to fix this, fast, or it will be Sundown in America for a long time.

More "Brilliant Orange" - the long lead pass

Almost twenty years to the day after Rensenbrink’s hit post in the last minute of the 1978 final came its weird and perfect redemptive mirror image. Marseilles. The Stade Velodrome. 5 July 1998. Just after 5 p.m. It’s 1-1 in the last minute of an epic World Cup quarter-final between Holland and Argentina. Dutch defender Frank de Boer plays a sixty-metre pass, which finds a gap on the right side of the Argentina defence. At an unpromising angle, the ball drops from its high arc towards Holland’s player of the age, Dennis Bergkamp, who leaps like a high hurdler and cushions the ball so it falls perfectly under control without breaking his stride. It’s one of the most remarkable pieces of control ever seen on a football field. ‘Very good by Dennis Bergkamp,’ says Van Gelder, rather like an art critic describing the Sistine Chapel ceiling as ‘nice’. But as Bergkamp uses his next two touches to cut inside the last Argentinian defender and then lash the ball across goalkeeper Roa and into the net, Van Gelder rises memorably to the occasion...

I must’ve watched it on loop maybe 500 times or more. Okay maybe not 500 times. But it got better every time I saw it. It’s up there with the top three Dutch goals ever scored. With Bergkamp against Argentina. A moment of invention and technique and everything at the most extreme level of creativity and technique in an extraordinarily important game. It was decisive…A lightning flash.


24 minutes, some noodles, some laughs

Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories, now running on Netflix, is nice.  Low key but kind of funny, it has real feeling to it without being too sentimental.  And it has a real appreciation for the physical and visual pleasures of a late night meal, from sizzling noodles in a wok to the shine of a freshly wiped wooden counter.

It's actually a demanding format, but these guys know what they're doing.  It's fun to watch them work with it.


November 04, 2016

Cool - which way is north?

It's significantly more accurate than traditional 2-D maps, however, thanks to a process that begins with an actual globe. Narukawa divided the 3-D planet into 96 equal regions, then transferred those dimensions from a sphere to a tetrahedron before finally converting that to a rectangular map. These steps let him preserve the area ratios of land and water as they exist in the real world.


November 03, 2016

Sad news

Sorry to hear that injuries have slowed the estimable Saina Nehwal, and that the day is not far off when the cognoscenti will look back and say 'she really knew what to do with a shuttlecock.'  The upcoming China Open may be her farewell tour, and a last chance to avenge her 2015 defeat in the finals.  Eisengeiste will cover each match with its usual diligence and professionalism.

In happier times:


We asked former Republican speechwriter Barton Swaim and Democratic speechwriter Jeffrey Nussbaum to write a ​totally pandering bipartisan stump speech for an imaginary presidential candidate — one who ​espouses only positions that a majority of voters agree with.


Seen any good baseball games, lately?

Just curious.